Despite big issues, turnout at polls may be small

Photo by Tori Boone

Photo by Tori Boone

LAWRENCEVILLE -- At public hearings over proposed tax increases, people said they couldn't wait to show up at the polls and show commissioners what they believe.

With a controversial new garbage plan and a stir over the local airport, the vitriol reached a fever pitch, and it broke the boiling point when a grand jury investigation hammered officials on their roles in questionable land deals.

But with the election today of a new chairman to replace the one who resigned rather than face an indictment by that grand jury, the political mood has become tepid.

"I think the sad fact is very few people are going to show up," at the polls today, said Sabrina Smith, who organized Gwinnett Citizens for Responsible Government to battle one of the proposed tax increases. "I think it's going to be a very small group of people who will decide who our next chairman will be."

During the early and absentee voting period, less than 2,000 ballots have been issued, said Elections Director Lynn Ledford, who had expected more than the usual lackluster special election.

"We've been really surprised. We thought with all that had gone on, it would be a very high profile election," she said. "But it hasn't. It's been a very typical special election."

Despite the $600,000 price tag of opening all 156 county precincts, Ledford predicts only about 8 to 12 percent of the county's 438,135 registered voters will participate in the chairman's special election.

The race is between Libertarian businessman Will Costa, retired Naval officer Larry Gause, retired assistant police chief Duane Kissel and retired county administrator Charlotte Nash.

"I don't think people realize these local level politicians are really important," Ledford said, adding that the decisions by commissioners often have a greater impact on people's every day lives than the president. "You have maybe 8 percent of the people electing the person who is going to represent our county for two years."

While there is some apathy, Smith said many people are so disgusted with local politicians of late that they are too frustrated to take part.

"I think that is why it is even more important," she said. "It's absolutely essential we get someone in there who we can trust."

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. today throughout Gwinnett. If no one candidate receives more than 50 percent of the votes, a runoff will be held April 12.